Make the Most of Your First Law School Summer

Whatever path you take, make sure you get meaningful experience in the legal field.

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There are many summer work opportunities available for law students after their first year.
There are many summer work opportunities available for law students after their first year.

Many law students spend considerable time worrying about how to best spend their first year. First-year students, known as 1Ls, are especially concerned with how to impress the employers with whom they will interview during the crucial second year recruiting season, which can begin as early as August.

While your law school grades are the most important factor in determining which 2L job you will secure, you want to make the most of your 1L summer both to enhance your practical learning and to develop your resume for 2L recruiting.

You might want to take a break from the law at the end of your stressful 1L year and return to the comfort of one of your former summer positions, perhaps as a lifeguard or server, but you should not pause your legal career and professional development. While law school is incredibly expensive, in the long run, it is far better to gain relevant practical legal experience this summer.

This experience will be very appealing to a law firm or public interest organization in the future, even if you have to get it for very little compensation.

Here are a few tips regarding how to most effectively utilize the summer after your 1L year, taking into account that very few private law firms are taking 1L summer associates in the current economic environment.

There is not a single "right" path that all 1Ls should follow after their first year in law school; instead, there are a variety of options that you should consider depending on your specific professional goals.

[Explore law schools' jobs data.]

If you have your heart set on working for a law firm as a summer associate, consider identifying smaller firms – perhaps those with partners who attended your law school – as these are the firms most likely to accept a 1L summer associate.

Emphasize any prior experience or special skills, especially language skills, that you could bring to the firm. One of Stratus Prep's clients who had studied psychology and counseling as an undergraduate and was a fluent Spanish speaker was able to secure a 1L position at a family law firm looking to expand its market share in the local Latino community.

Before accepting a 1L summer associate position, ensure that you will have the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way, such as by conducting legal research and drafting motions, orders or memos under the supervision of an attorney.

Another rewarding and strategic way to spend your 1L summer is to intern with a judge. While most judges have clerks, who are recent law school graduates, many also take on summer interns.

This is an ideal internship for students interested in pursuing a career in litigation, as you will have the opportunity to observe the various facets and phases of litigation from a unique perspective. Building a strong relationship with this judge now could lead to a prestigious clerkship after graduation.

Just as with a law firm offer, however, be sure that you will have the chance to do meaningful work, such as contributing to the research and drafting of opinions, which you can highlight on your resume.

[Find out which law students get the most clerkships.]

If you are considering going into academia, reach out to professors in your fields of interest to inquire about research assistant opportunities. Collaborating with a professor will not only allow you to obtain valuable research and writing experience, but may also help you identify a mentor who can leverage his or her relationships to help you land your first academic position after graduation.

Public interest internships can represent a compelling opportunity not only for those interested in such advocacy in the long term but also for other students seeking robust hands-on legal work during their 1L summer. Since public interest organizations tend to have smaller staffs, they are more likely to provide you with client interaction and research and writing opportunities which will serve you well no matter what your long-term career path.

If you are considering a public interest position, be sure to inquire about the availability of a summer public interest fellowship from your school. Many law schools provide stipends of about $5,000 for students working in public interest law during the summer.

[Find out more about summer public interest law internships.]

When applying for public interest internships, try to identify those organizations that work on causes of great importance to you personally. At Stratus Prep, our clients have secured positions advocating for everything from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights to nuclear non-proliferation.

As you explore your 1L summer options, keep in mind that your 2L summer internship could result in a job offer for after graduation. Thus, seek out a 1L summer opportunity that relates to your career goals and that will help you hone the relevant skills to be successful in the long term.

What are you doing the summer after 1L year? Let me know in the comments, email me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.